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Pte 70 Score Essay on “What, if Anything, have the Great Empires of the World Achieved?”

What, if Anything, have the Great Empires of the World Achieved?


Self-interest, in some shape or form, has always been the motivation behind empire-building. Its occasion has been the development of military and naval power and in recent times air power, as in the case of Germany under Adolf Hitler, who sought to create an Aryan empire by the invasion of surrounding sovereign states. Its effects are interpreted variously, for obvious reasons. The course of history itself has always had something to say about aggression. Hitler’s failure, for example, brought the democratic institutions of Western Europe into focus and laid the foundations of the European Community. The war also broke down social barriers, heightened the social consciences of the Western states, and accelerated the decolonization process of the European empires, especially that of Great Britain. Yet it also began the polarization of East and West, headed by the USSR and the USA respectively, and with the build-up of nuclear arsenals this poses in 1984 an even greater threat than that of Adolf Hitler in 1939.

Self-interest needs definition. To consider the great empires of the world we need to look back 4000 years. The earliest empires were necessarily limited geographically. The Phoenecian Empire provides a good example. The seaboard of Libya, centered in the Lebanon, produced a hardy race of seafarers, the Canaanites, who established colonies in Cyprus, Carthage in North Africa, Malta, Sicily and Spain. They visited the Scillies and Cornwall and circumnavigated Africa. Yet their real interest was in trade, and they exported cedar to Egypt, furniture, purple cloth and jewelry all over the Middle East, thus enriching much of the known world. Moreover they invented an alphabet which gave rise to both the Greek and Roman alphabets, and through those later empires to the alphabets of most of the European states. Their inscriptions, such as the Moabite Stone and the Siloan Tunnel inscriptions, provided invaluable points of reference in Jewish Biblical history.

The aggressive instinct, the desire for enrichment by trade, and of course the need for territorial expansion; all are natural, if self-interested motives. An agricultural community with a growing population needs more land; hence, colonization. Following the Phoenicians, The Greeks acquired most of the Mediterranean world, and, following them, the Romans, at the height of Empire, had acquired the whole of the known world including territories as far apart as Britain and the West African coast line. We are used to thinking of the Romans as cruel, oppressive and rapacious, interested mainly inexacting taxes, ‘asset stripping’ wherever they went. All this is true, yet our modern dislike of the empire-concept must not blind us to the immense enrichment conferred, if only as a by-product, on their vassal states.

The city states of Greece, in the period 750 to 600 B.C., were governed by tyrants, a name meaning `kings’, but whose powers were limited by the essentially Greek concept of democracy, which was the original forerunner of the modern democratic process of the free world today. The Greeks were adventurers, traders and law-givers, and their political contribution to the Mediterranean sea board and even to France and Egypt, is incalculable. Their trade in wine, oil and scent, wood, metal work and pottery enriched other countries. Their sculpture, and architecture has never since been equaled. Their poetry and drama have remained supreme.

The extent and duration of the Roman Empire were of course. much greater. Their positive contribution to the lives of vassal states covered the whole political, legal and cultural spectrum. Roman law provided the foundation of much modern law. They also enriched the known world in the spheres of art, architecture, law, town-planning, wall painting, and civic building.

No empire lasts forever. The dissolution of even the British Empire is now virtually complete. In a world where, because of modern travel, instant communication, and the heightened concept of sovereignty of states both large and small, it is right that this should be so. Many people see the only hope for the future in a one-world concept, in which aggression is outlawed and mutual respect and co-operation fostered for the common good. The West is concerned to trade rather than to exploit, to lend money rather than exact it.

The French and Portuguese concepts of empire were, of course, doomed to failure in the modern world, basically because those countries tried to keep the concept of colonization as an extension of the home country, ultimately ruled by. the central government. The post-war wind of change brought about an irony in the case of the British Empire. Government had long since devolved to the great dominions, and even the very least of the overseas possessions were encouraged to develop their own governments. Yet the worldwide process overtook the gradual process of emancipation and, as post war history has shown, with disastrous results in many cases.


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